by Elizabeth Fremantle
Katherine Parr, at age thirty-one already twice a widow, returns to the court of Henry VIII after the death of her husband Lord Latymer. There, she falls in love with the handsome Thomas Seymour, brother to a former wife of the king. It is her hope that they will wed, but Katherine’s sunny disposition and compassionate nature attract another suitor: the aging Henry VIII. Katherine knows well the fate of those who displease the king little Katherine Howard’s not yet cold in her grave so she reluctantly accepts his gifts and, in time, his hand in marriage. Queen Katherine strives to use her new position for good, but always she must beware the wrath of the king, who may destroy the queen who displeases him as quickly as he raised her to the throne.
Katherine Parr is remembered as the queen who “survived”- but she had several close calls during her three-and-a-half year reign. As an adherent to the “new faith”, she made many Catholic enemies at court. In a famous incident which is one of the dramatic highlights of the novel she was warned that Henry VIII had plans to arrest her for heresy. When she next sees him, she begs the king to forgive her for overstepping. She explains that when she engaged him in religious debate, it was so that she may learn from his great wisdom and distract him from the pain caused by his physical ailments, and not from any attempts to trick him or boss him around. The king, soothed and pleased by her humility, declares that they are ever friends. Her clever response may very well have saved her neck! It is one of the reasons I love her. Unlike in other novels, where Katherine is little more than a nurse, this Katherine sparkles with vivacity. Her passions animate her, whether it is her love of the reformed faith or her desire for Thomas Seymour. She’s never really described as beautiful, but her delightful quips and generous heart make it clear why Henry VIII would have chosen her for his queen.
Fremantle also introduces us to Dot, a servant that Parr brings with her when she comes to court. While Katherine shows us what life was like for the high and mighty, Dot brings the earthier “hidden” world of the Tudor servants to life. She longs for a young man outside her station. To modern eyes, it seems a bit odd, for her love is not royalty or even a noble, but a commoner like herself. But 16th century England was still a highly stratified society, and Dot assumes that a man who can read and write must be far above an illiterate girl like herself. Dot has no counterpart in the historical record, but by the end of the book her loyal devotion to the queen made me hope that Katherine had someone like her while she was at court.
This is the best novel I’ve seen about Katherine Parr. She may not have set out to seduce the king, but after finishing this novel it became easy to see why he wanted her as the last few pages went by, I didn’t want to let Katherine get away, either.
4.5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Fashionista Piranha on a break until August 14th!
2011: The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson
2010: His Last Letter by Jeanne Westin
2009: Elizabeth Plantagenet, 15th Century English Queen, on Twitter
2008: So Long At the Fair by Christina Schwartz